Last week, people in Western New York got a postcard in the mail from what appears to be a friendly stranger.
"Great News!" the postcard read. "You're eligible to receive a $100 gift savings good at Wall Mart or Target. Call 1-855-496-0440. Monday through Saturday, 10-9 pm."
One of the people who received this happy postcard was Donald Philips of Niagara Falls.
Philips, who wasn't born yesterday, in fact, he was born 83 years ago and has been retired from the city water department for 19 years had doubts about his card but he read on.
"Dear Donald, We are trying to reach you for your unclaimed reward. We are holding your reward of $100 … call toll free."
So Donald called only to get a man with an Indian accent on the phone who told him that yes, he did indeed have a reward coming but first he would have to give his credit card number, so he could be billed a $1 dollar charge.
"Just to make sure it is legitimate," the Indian said.
Donald decided he would keep the buck and reported it instead to the state attorney general's office.
A little investigation determined the postcards are coming from Core Vision Group, LLC, of Clearwater, FL., a group rated "F" by the Better Business Bureau because of "a pattern of complaints concerning misrepresentation in selling practices."
The business started in May 2010 and is operated by Tim Hangge,
Shawn Davis and Ben Hoskins telemarketers, and phony prize promoters.
While these scammers have not yet been halted, authorities are warning consumers of the scam.
"If you call the number, you'll be asked to provide your credit card number, supposedly to cover shipping or processing fees of $6.95 or less," said the North Carolina attorney general's office, where its residents are also getting the postcards. "But once you've shared your credit card number, there's little to stop the group behind the post cards from racking up more charges on your account. Consumers who've fallen for the scam report being charged up to $100 at once, or finding smaller charges appear on their bill each month."
As a general rule, it's best to assume that money is never free, and any email or letter that promises otherwise is a scam.
Don Philips knew it.
"As soon as they asked me for my credit card, I knew it was a phony," he said. "So I hung up and reported them to the attorney general's office."